If you listened to radio in the summer of 2006, there were three songs that you could not escape hearing. The first two—Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack”—were originally irresistible, but eventually lost their charm. The third was a track that fused 60’s pop sensibilities, 90’s techno beats, an ethereal vocal line, shout-outs to pop cultural icons, and a trippy video— an undeniably catchy package called “Crazy.” It became the hot hip-hop joint of the summer, in the tradition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” (2001), Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” (2003), and Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” (2005).
St. Elsewhere, the debut album from the duo responsible, became one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. Of course, anyone who had heard the work of Danger Mouse (MF Danger Doom, Gorillaz) and vocalist Cee-Lo was not surprised by the album’s lyrical complexity and musical intelligence. But the rest of the album was not nearly as accessible for the masses as was that incorrigibly catchy summer single (at least on this side of the Pacific), and the group came to be unfairly known in the cultural consciousness as a one-hit wonder.
Fast forward to the present. After two years of touring, publicizing, and dropping hints of the album to come, Gnarls Barkley released their sophomore effort, The Odd Couple. And while it’s still a little odd, it’s far more mainstream than its predecessor.
The first thing most will notice is that The Odd Couple is decidedly more upbeat and positive than St. Elsewhere. In place of the murky depression of their debut, the record exhibits a stronger sense of hope and purpose. Songs like “Going On” feature lyrics that are hopeful and even defiant: “you can stand right there if you want, but I’m going on.” Perhaps the duo felt slighted by some of the implications from reviewers that they were only a one-summer hit, and this is their musical rebuttal. If it is, it works wonders—try listening to “Whatever” without symbolically telling off whatever (or whoever) it is that is trying to keep you down. (You can’t. I’ve tried.)
The album features the same sort of variety as St. Elsewhere. There are high energy tracks (“Run” , “Going On” , “Whatever” ), slower ballads (“Who’s Going To Save Your Soul?” ), and even a reflective yet slightly psychologically twisted track in the vein of “Necromancing” (“Would Be Killer” ). It is much more accessible than its predecessor; this is partially due to the lyrical upswing, but also because more songs are tighter and “poppier” than those on the first album (save for the ubiquitous “Crazy” ).
If there is one complaint about The Odd Couple, it is that it feels more like a collection of thirteen songs than it does a cohesive album with a proper flow. But since each song works so well as a self-contained unit, this amounts to little more than minor criticism—especially since they are much more aware of album flow than most artists are at this stage in their careers.
Because “Crazy” was such a huge hit, it is not likely that The Odd Couple will bring Gnarls Barkley a new awareness or new fans. But it is likely that it will cement the fandom of listeners who enjoyed the first first album and hoped that their second album would show improvement. In two short albums, Gnarls Barkley has recorded a variety of songs that show their talent, but more so their potential—there really seems to be no limit to their creativity, and they are as fresh on this album as they were on their first. The Odd Couple is the album that proves that Gnarls Barkley is here to stay, and that they will continue to provide music that is simultaneously catchy, reflective, deep, poppy, and, well, odd.
Derek Turner is a freelance writer in Caronport, Saskatchewan.
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